The Best Chestnuts Ever

Jim and Dave of Sonoma Coast Organic Produce are only at the market a few weeks each year. They have the best chestnuts in the area, chanterelles and quince.

What to look for: When purchasing fresh chestnuts, choose those which feel heavy for their size, smooth, glossy, and free from blemishes. Avoid purchasing any chestnuts that are cracked, shriveled, or rattle in their shell.
Storage: Fresh nuts are best stored in the refrigerator, in a perforated plastic bag, where they will keep for about a month. The freezer is ideal for long-term storage – freeze fresh chstnuts in their shells up to four months.
Preparation: Before chestnuts can be consumed they must first be either boiled or roasted. Chestnuts eaten raw would result in an upset stomach due to their high levels of tannic acid.
Although a nut, chestnuts are similar to potatoes as they are rich in starchy carbohydrates. Unlike other nuts, they have a high moisture content and are low in fat. They are also rich in sugars, have a moderate amount of Vitamin C, and virtually no cholesterol, gluten, or oil.

How to Roast Chestnuts:
How to roast chestnuts:
Begin by making an X on the flat side before roasting (or boiling). Chestnuts can explode from internal pressure if not pierced before cooking.
Place on a baking sheet in a 400-degree F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring them around occasionally. Peel the shells off, and serve while nuts are still hot.
To roast “on an open fire,” punch rows of holes in the bottom of an aluminum pie plate and place on a grill over white ash covered hot coals.

Peeling Chestnuts
Plain and simple: chestnuts are a pain in the ass to peel, and treacherous, too. A few helpful tips, though, can make the task much less onerous. Most importantly, heat and moisture will be your friends, softening the leathery peel and keeping the inner membrane free of the meat. Make sure you have a sharp knife with an evil tip. There are specially made chestnut knives, their short curved blade well-designed to minimize the potential for slippage and any resulting bodily damage. I have a cheap curve-bladed paring knife that I bought just for chestnut handling, and it serves me just fine. Whatever you use, great caution is advised. The firm attack required to get under and remove the shell can very easily redirect the blade deep into your palm. Best to use careful leverage from the strength of your fingers rather than the muscle power of your wrists. Also, it’s advisable to wear a simple pair of rubber dishwashing gloves, both to help prevent slippage and to protect your hands from the heat, allowing you to work the chestnuts very hot when they’re apt to be most compliant.

The first step in prepping chestnuts for peeling is opening up the shell. Most sources recommend cutting an ‘X’ in the flat side of the shell. I’ve found it easier and more effective to make a single sideways cut as in the photo at left, slipping the tip of the knife between the shell and the meat. Next, the chestnuts need to be subjected to heat and steam. I’ve tried a number of ways – boiling, boiling then microwaving, and just microwaving. By far, the tidiest method is just microwaving. Simply wrap a few (6 or so) in a well-moistened dish towel, place this in a non-metallic bowl, and microwave at medium-high for 3 minutes.

Remove one chestnut and rewrap the rest to keep them hot. Hold the chestnut firmly in one hand and use the knife for peeling. Work the tip of the knife under the shell, then place your thumb over the outside and pull/tear to remove it, in several pieces. The photo at left shows fully and partially peeled chestnuts, along with pieces of the shell and bits of the papery inner membrane that shrouds the meat of the nut. In some cases, the inner membrane will come away with the shell; in some cases it may remain stubbornly attached to the meat of the chestnut, especially if the chestnut is deeply grooved. Be patient, and keep working at the membrane with the tip of the knife.